View from

The Indian and Draw Near, White Man

(A crèche in Peru by Edilberto Mérida. Photograph by Juana Moriel Payne)

“And working together, what might we become?/citizens of a single kingdom./you could find it all in the palm of your hand/alongside Indian, yellow and black.”

Rafael Aguilar Páez was an indigenous poet and politician from Cusco, Peru. He served as mayor of Cusco and Rector of the University of Cusco. Aguilar represented the region of Cusco for three terms in the National Congress in the 1940s and 1950s. He brought modernizing infrastructure and resources to his region and fought successfully to make Quechua the nation’s second official language. Aguilar founded and directed the Peruvian Institute for Aboriginal Languages. He translated the poetry of many authors into his native Quechua and was international in his outlook. These poems, which were previously unpublished, were translated by Merion West arts editor Johnny Payne.

The Indian

The hearts of white people can never be moved.

– Manuel González Prada en El Mitayo



What heinous crimes

unleashed upon the world?

Why have you forgot what’s mine,

good Father, sun lord

the earth I worked, diseased

me dispossessed, nothing mine.

Wheat and wool bad remedies

The landowner unkind

leaving me in hunger, cold.

Before him, the Spaniard.



Blood, sweat, tears

my life as a machine.

Why sun have you turned

senseless and mean?

Why don’t you light

my owner’s listless brain?

If you can pour with all your might

upon us excellent rays

you might as well make

his conscience start awake.



Wheat bread I sowed

my work turns

into his. If I pluck gold

while my muscles burn

from the man-killing

mine, where docile I go down

and keep the herd fattening

and shepherd, pushing them along

still all is his, I’m good as dead

no home, nor loaf of bread.



My wife, helpmeet

in helpless hopelessness

while haplessly

I listen to her sob:

Sometimes I plot

to strangle her while she sleeps.

And yet, it wouldn’t be her fault

if she happened to offend my sight

when the landowner or his offspring

happened to rape her, break her heart.



My daughter? I remember.

The echo of her voice

still rings in my ears

begging pardon in that cloister

from deaf executioners

who smothered her cries.

They closed their heedless ears

those decent young tykes

from blow to blow. Those bandits

the owner’s sons! I spit.



And my son? Ah, yes, my young man!

One day the owner’s men

marched straight to the highlands

slinging cruel slogans;

maybe because we were Indians

nothing made them see

though they watched

my wife in hysterics

while they carried my son

straight to the barracks.



They made a masquerade

holding in hand a rifle, the symbol

of fratricidal hate.

and he, ignorant and dumb, victim

of this so-called fellow man

whose ignorance in turn

upholds the ignorance

of all tyrants

whose interest, facile

lies in keeping Indians docile.



Where do I turn my eyes?

To who can I complain?

My gods—my elders?

What happened to those men?

I’m mute and my silence

still doesn’t liberate

and if at times I stand resigned

it’s because stoically

I give up proclaiming, and muse

to everybody: What’s the use?



If work is good because

that means men increase

proving their cause

as a superior species

and he who, like me

for work sacrifices

without the devil being

the only one preaching this advice

am I, who am always working

not a superior species?



I know: if from usufruct

on which my effort depends

I don’t receive the fruits

cannot them spend

if muscles quiver

with the ax that splits

the tree, for firewood shivered

chopped to bits

will that same hand, once free

ever light my own chimney?



Irrigated land? I’ve bored

and dug an aqueduct

yet I’m without bed, on the floor.

I’ll lie there when I’m near defunct.

Anonymous heroism?

I was in the redoubt:

but I’m always in the schism

never in the product

and haven’t, since from the womb

enjoyed either cradle or tomb.



I was shepherd to the cattle

and I watered the land

and between ditches battled

sweat and seeds to plant.

Another’s granary

encloses it now

for a Fatherland that orphaned me

I traded blows in war

showed obedience

and showed valor.



I’m the one who holds

the hoe and the lantern

who stretches rails

and builds embankments

the one who spends his whole

life making good others’ plans

the Indian made brute by alcohol.

Young or old, I serve the white man

Who pays me in disdain

a salary in pain.



I pour my sweat

into the wide plain

the one on which autos

soon will run

I sculpt stones in silence

in the quarry

I’m the poor race

for whom no one worried

without pleasure, bathed in sand

without home or homeland.



I’m the docile beast

submissive and resigned

among all mules the least

kept in a halter bound.

I’m the one who sows

the highlands and deep valleys

the one you give a blow

or kick him just because

as any mestizo

feels he has a right to do.



I’m eternal servitude

work-bait, in barracks

or factory. I’m a rude

source of attacks

a militant force

naked strength, brute power

vivifying blast

I barely merit a glance, less glower

slave, peon, soldier

puppet on a string.



An ever active arm

and potent muscle

that from its motion warms

working by the sole suction

that my energy creates

in quiet and with faith

irrigation furrows or paths

joined by a bridge

it makes places to embrace

in strong communion.



Day in, day out, I’ve been

and will be laboring

with the resilience shown

by the past’s bright blows ringing:

temples, fortresses

everyone admires

what’s eternal, what endures

what’s been left dispersed

in the imperial birth

tardy in its rebirth.



I who drain the cow

but don’t drink the milk

I with fist on plow

but don’t taste cheese’s silk

I who eat

leftovers, mere scraps

I who work until I’m beat

never taking a nap

I, the lazy Indian

I, the Indian vagabond.



I who raise great walls

plastering on adobe

and finish the master’s halls

will then make my own dwelling

I who if I gain anything

the landowner will filch

it, and when I complain,

I’ll surely get whipped.

I who fashion things

that never will be mine.



I soothe my sorrows with

yista stone and coca leaf

soothing my shot nerves

and serving as lean feast.

I endure cold and I fast.

At least in my mouth

I hold coca to chew

creating a sense of heat

boosting my energy

Like sacred wheat.



When conviction crashes

to full misery

and I consider, abashed

my decadent destiny

and when I surmise

land is less than abundant

when my anguish rises

and my pain becomes flagrant

I find in alcohol a remedy

for my despondency.



I drink, I drink, I drink.

Avidly, I get drunk

wanting, in my booze haze

to smash my funk

as in alcohol I seek

the blaze of havoc

as somebody once said

as if himself to flatter.

It’s because in me

something wants to sleep.



That’s when I become

the grotesque, groaning Indian

complaining, moaning

crying just to be crying:

the most disgraceful being

in the world

this would-be man, this nothing.

because in booze, the sting

feels less sharp

even if you can’t heal your heart.



I owe this great benefit

to my torturers:

alcohol makes you stupid

and I can confidently report

that nobody tries to push

me off these deadly games.

Alcohol helps crush

a man, put on the yoke.

Alcohol ensures we will

suffer, suffer still.



In the perpetual crime

of my current state

who’s presumed innocent

who can say, “Me!”?

Nobody.  The functionary

the priest, the soldier

not them, not the gringo

the businessman or famed lawyer

who, thanks to his great defense

took away my land.



He who thanks to my work

progresses via me in reverse

robs me and that jerk

calls it all honor

he who exploits my brawn

and crafty, takes a leap

he wears me down

so he can reap

he who leaves me abandoned

hungry and naked.



The wool I’ve been shearing

I might as well have invented

the hefty flock grazing

on land rented

from the owner

in his immense, sure

stolen glory, he alone

is the proprietor

of the whole spread:

my goods, his deed.



He’ll throw toward me with

a grim and haughty frown

a few miserable pennies

the thousandth portion

of the true price of my grain,

leather, wool shaven

all else that’s mine, perfectly

gauged so there won’t be money

and he’ll have the subprefect

and judge on hand, in his pocket.



Once in a great spell

there have been good times.

What beast hasn’t had

moments that felt sublime?

Even the biggest bandit

can be generous sometimes

without ever understanding

my suffering, my wounds

and thereby judging

himself to be kind.



My gods no longer bear

my land is no longer mine

my life is forced labor

to the end

work slow, work fast

at first light and last dark

without a day of rest

because leisure and spark

is a crime; what could redeem

my life except work and spleen?



I understand nobody

is required to know

the slights I’ve embodied

buried here below

the owner’s angry hand

that beats me and wounds my peace

the foot that kicks my face

while I keep a straight face.

What does anyone know of the time spent

of one who holds his anger silent?



What do I owe white people?

Suffering hate, injustice

never able to let loose a peep

or otherwise use my voice.

Jail is for Indians, that’s their justice!

What virtue were they teaching?

To be stingy and vicious.

I owe whites nothing:

Neither to them nor their God

the divine beast who makes them proud.


Draw Near, White Man

Don’t be afraid of me, as there’s nothing to fear:

that I’d kill or rob my fellow creatures

using their sweat through a dubious lie

and enjoy it.  I’m not that way: don’t fear me.


My God the Inca and Creator

if I lift up his name it’s in honor.

Liar, dullard, thief, false, infamous

as you well know, I’ve been none of these.


From the great Incas, their son and servant

from Tawantinsuyo and surroundings

working the fields, weaving, ever

raising animals, all in good cheer.


I strive to eat, work for a living

and that’s how I lived with my Inca, my King.

home, bread, beloved, chicha, water

back then, nothing could be made better.


Approach me, white man

though you don’t have yesterday’s beard.

From me, what do you have to doubt or fear?

From my sincere soul, my mouth that’s clean?


I walk a straight path, one with no crooks

and work my plot of land, temples, brooks

living among men and women, sisters and brothers

and as the Inca orders, doing right by all others.


Whatever you said before was cast off by the wind

as we sorrowed in hunger, misery, pain

four hundred years in a river of tears

living in my village, without a savior.


Today they tell me there are no longer any

whites who want to work together with Indians

hand in hand, but maybe

we can all walk together as if we were one people.


And working together, what might we become?

citizens of a single kingdom.

you could find it all in the palm of your hand

alongside Indian, yellow and black.


Rafael Aguilar Páez was a Peruvian poet and politician active between the 1930s and 1970s. He died in 1972.

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